The Trans-Siberian Express is the longest uninterrupted railway route in the world. Running from Moscow to Vladivostok (and vice versa), it crosses through 6 time zones, 90 cities and 2 continents all in the span of 6-7 days.
A little bit of history
The railroad started as a solution to the high cost of transport over the vast size of Russia which soon became a source of national pride. In the middle of the 19th century the Russian Tsars decided not to make use of foreign investment, but rather to use funds from Russia’s treasury to build the railway. It was decided that the railway will be built by Russian people using Russian materials and construction started (simultaneously from Chelyabinsk and Vladivostok) in 1891.
Specialists from central cities joined exiled prisoners and soldiers in building the railway, making tunnels and constructing bridges. 7,500km was built in just 12 years. After the Russo- Japanese war (1905-1906) the wooden tracks were replaced with metal and the line extended from Vladivostok through all of Russia, finishing contruction in 1916. WWII and Civil war saw destruction of parts of the line and bridges, reconstruction of this ended in 1925 and there has been no break-downs till the present.
The main route
The main route starts in Moscow, the largest city in Europe, to Vladimir, 209 km away. Vladimir was founded in 995 and is home to 4 cathedrals that are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
252 km from Vladimir is Nizhiny Novgorod, founded in 1221. Nizhiny Novgorod only recently became open to visitors and have memorials dating to the 13th and 14th centuries.
The agricultural centre of Kirov is the next stop, 456 km further. The centre of Russia’s military manufacturing, Perm, is passed 480 km down the line from Kirov.
Travelling 381 km further, the Trans-Siberian Railway leads through Ekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk), an area rich in minerals and raw materials. From here it is another 326 km to Tyumen- the first Russian town in Siberia.
Omsk lays 572 km from Ekaterinburg, where the Irtysh and Om rivers meet. The city is the largest industrial and cultural centre in Siberia. Siberia’s largest city, Novosibirsk, is found surrounded by the Altai Mountains is a further 627 km along.
The railway winds 762 km through spectacular nature scenes to Kransnoyarsk and onwards to Angarsk 1048 km away.
The university town of Irkutsk is reached 40 km later. Many tourists travel to Lake Baikal from here.
Baikalisk is the next stop, 207 km from Irkutsk. Baikalisk offer plenty opportunities for skiing and snowboarding.
249 km further is Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Burynt Autonomous Republic. This area was part of the Mongolian Empire between the 13th and 17th centuries and is where the railway split, either going through Mongolia and Ulan Bataar to Beijing (the Trans-Mongolia) or East through Chita to Vladivostok (the Trans-Siberian).
The railway splits again 557 km further in Chita. Here the Trans-Siberian continues East to Vladivostok and the Trans-Manchurian travels South through Manchuria to China.
In Birobidzhan, 2154 km from Chita, the railway crosses the Amur River by using the longest Trans-Siberian bridge – a staggering 2612 meters long! If this wasn’t enough, it preceded by a long tunnel.
The quiet town of Khabarovsk follows all the excitement, 173 km later with Vladivostok a mere 766 km away. Vladivostok started as a military base and is the main Russian port on the Pacific Ocean today.
- The trans-Mongolian line runs 7867 km from Moscow to Beijing via Mongolia.
- The Trans-Manchurian line runs 9001 km long from Moscow to Beijing, entering China near Zabaikalsk.
- The Baikal Amur Magistrale (BAM) is not a part of the Trans-Siberian Railway. It is a track that runs parallel to, and nearly 4000 km north of, the Trans-Siberian Railway. This railway is not as widely advertised since travellers will have to make use of multiple and different trains to travel from one side to the other – with the odd bus ride or two thrown in for good measure.
There are a number of options available if you want to travel the Trans-Siberian express. From trains that only offer 2nd and 3rd class carriages (rumoured to be the only train to travel the longest distance) to super luxury experiences. Which one will you choose?
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com